EndSARS protests, gunmen, herdsmen inspired my recent paintings —Adanna Odikwa, creative and makeup artist

Adanna Odikwa is a creative and makeup artist, and Abia State University graduate of Fine Arts. She recently organised an art exhibition in Abia State tagged: ‘Stroke and Shades’. In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about why she chose to study Fine Arts, and the therapeutic function of arts.

 

What was your fondest memory studying Fine Arts?

I chose to study Fine Arts because I’ve always loved making art and I’m good at it too. I started making art at a very young age. When I was little, my parents used to buy us crayons and sketch pads, and after we’re done with painting a picture, we would show them and they would applaud us and encourage us to paint more pictures. My brothers and I would also make things out of clay. We would make decorative flower pots and place them in our rooms.

Making art in secondary school was, somehow, a form of escape for me. I attended a boarding school and it wasn’t an experience I was pleased with, so I found myself writing stories, making story books with pictures, and drawing and painting too. I’m always likely to be the most artistic person in the class and whenever there was an art assignment, my classmates would come to me for help.

It went on in the university. My colleagues would ask help with their assignment. It got to a point where I had to assist my lecturer with some portrait jobs he was working on. I’ve never really complained about any of that.

 

What two secondary school experiences were not pleased with and how did art help you to cope with them?

First, there were many routines and restrictions which I, right from JSS1 to SS3, found very difficult to cope with. Secondly, the atmosphere felt nothing close to home. Not many people were nice and encouraging, unlike home. Turning to art was a distraction from reality. A relief. It was where I could create my own world and live my daydreams.

 

What kinds of themes/human conditions do your artworks capture and why?

I am fascinated with the cultural and political aspects of human existence, Africans precisely. So, I tend to capture that a lot. Some of the themes I explored with the paintings I made last year and this year were inspired by the EndSARS protests, unknown gunmen and herdsmen. I do it because of the effects they have on us, directly or indirectly. I also love to paint African abstract sceneries as a way of acknowledging our beauty and architecture. I’m also fascinated with human figures. Majority of my paintings are figurative. I have equally experimented with other art styles. I have made use of palette knives, collages, hardboard, etc. I love to experiment with colours too.

 

Why this inspiration by the EndSARS protests, gunmen and herdsmen? Did you have any experience with them or did they affect your community in any way?

These events didn’t directly affect me. However, as a human being and as a Nigerian, I am concerned about the current state of the country and where it’s headed. It saddens me to see these things affected people. I have close friends who have recounted their harsh experiences in the hands of the then SARS officers. They told me that they were be beaten and detained until proven innocent for crimes they didn’t commit. It’s not a pleasant experience. I constantly fear for my brothers and male friends, even for my female friends as well. So these paintings I made exploring these themes express my concern and also remind viewers that lives were affected in this cause. Then again, what better way to document history than to make it into art.

 

What is your creative process like? And how long does it take you to produce an artwork?

My creative process can be challenging, especially since I started working with larger dimensions. First, I’ve to go to a carpenter to construct stretchers, buy a canvas or get a fabric as a substitute for the canvas which I would later prime with glue and emulsion paint so as to prevent the colours I would use from penetrating, then I would mount the canvas/fabric on the stretcher using a staple gun or tack nails.  After the surface is primed, I would let it dry before applying any colour on it. It’s really one long process and these materials aren’t easily available here, so sourcing for them can be hectic too. I try to work with the available ones. It takes me less than three days to create an artwork, if I’m not distracted; but when I am, it takes up to a week. I don’t like  stalling in my creative process because once I do, it’s hard to come back to it and I lose the motivation to complete it.

 

You recently organised an art exhibition tagged: ‘Stroke and Shades’. Tell us about it.

The strokes and shades exhibition was basically an avenue to promote my talent and create awareness to the happenings in our society. It wasn’t so easy to plan. It was financially and physically exhausting because I worked with larger dimensions, but I received a lot of support from my parents and my peers. The Director General of the Abia State Marketing and Quality Market Agency was of a great help as well. It was a successful event, considering the location it was held in. A few young people approached me and told me how they would love to pursue a career in fine arts. I hope the exhibition would inspire more young talents in my vicinity to start with whatever resources they have, irrespective of their locations.

 

How many of your works were showcased in the exhibition and where can your work be found?

About 30 works were showcased and you can find them at the Abia State Marketing and Quality Market Agency, Umuahia. My works have a virtual presence as well. You can find and order them on my social media pages, Facebook especially. I don’t own a gallery or a studio because I don’t have a permanent place of residence yet. It is something that I would definitely consider in the near future.

 

Do you have plans of showcasing your work outside of Nigeria?

Yes I do. It’s on every artist bucket list to exhibit internationally. I have seen some of my colleagues exhibit globally and they are doing very well. I would love to get to that level too. Hopefully, reaching out to the right people and having more exposure would help me to achieve that. I also have to join groups, and attend conferences and exhibitions. I have never actually considered myself a sociable person. I am always in my comfort zone, but this is a habit I’ve to break in order to go far in my career.

 

What kind of technology/digital innovation do you adopt in creating your work?

I’m a traditional painter, but I’ve just recently started making art with my laptop computer using software like Fire Alpaca and Adobe Illustrator. I have a graphic tablet that I connect to my laptop and draw on. I would love to delve into graphic designing someday. I am also looking to sell my art as NFTs.

 

Many people do not love or appreciate creative/visual arts in Nigeria. What do you think could be done to change this narrative?

It is a sad reality I can’t change. As much as I can’t control people’s perceptions, it’s important that I keep on doing what I love. People have tried to discourage me from studying fine arts. They even went as far as telling my parents to let me study other courses like nursing, medicine or mathematics but my parents refused. I think the stigma that comes with it is that it’s not a palpable career and I wouldn’t make a living out of it. I understand their fears, but I must say that I’m doing just fine. The only thing that matters, like I’ve mentioned before, is to keep going and to work harder too. However, I do believe that there are quite a few who appreciate it in areas like Lagos, Port Harcourt, etc., and those people keep me motivated. I would also love to exhibit and sell art in those places.

 

In your opinion, do you think the government and schools are doing enough to raise and support young creative talents in the society?

I think they are. Fine arts has been in the curriculum of  many schools in Nigeria. I studied it in primary school and in the university, and I’ve also experienced some inter-school competitions. So yes, the government is doing a great job in that aspect. I do wish that it would be available as a course in every school so that students who are arts inclined can find a way to unlock their potential. It would be nice to see a young talent who has had the opportunity to harness their skills. It would boost their confidence as well.

 

In what ways do you think creative art could be a source of soccour to the mental health of the individual and the society at large?

Art in every respect is therapeutic. It doesn’t matter if it’s just mere aesthetics or made to pass a message or to tell a story, it has a way with the mind and the emotions. It has a way of lifting one’s spirit. Take for instance, you walk into a room full of art, any kind, the ambience would be more delightful and relaxing. It’s just something you just can’t put into words. Every line and colour have some kind of effect on you.

 

Creative/visual art are serious arts that require time and mental energy. How do you manage your time and your mental health in creating your work?

I like to work on a schedule. I make out time for my art and time to catch a break. I also map out the time to do the important things like my chores, studies and my other needs. Most times, making art is my way of catching a break. That’s the fun part about being an artist.

 

Apart from visual arts, what other work do you do?

I am currently doing NYSC. However, while I was in school, I did a little bit of professional makeup and sewing. My business name was Bloomkulture. I wish I had continued with makeup because I was making some money from it. But I’m comfortable with how things turned out. I’m making a reasonable amount of money selling my art too.

 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I would be a successful studio artist, participating in national and world-wide exhibitions with a masters’ degree, while pursuing a PhD.

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